Govt labor-management deals must be transparent
Can the unhealthy relationship between labor and management that continued for years at the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry finally be remedied?
The farm ministry's third-party panel said in a report released Wednesday that a total of 198 senior members of the ministry's Zennorin labor union illegally engaged in union activities during working hours over the past five years.
The report also said such practices were conducted at the ministry's headquarters, the Hokkaido District Agriculture Office and all regional agricultural administration offices nationwide.
As a result of these findings, the ministry plans to take punitive measures, including pay cuts, against those found to have taken part in illegal union activities. It also plans to punish 945 officials who worked as the union members' superiors and personnel managers with pay cuts and by other means, calling their supervisory responsibilities into question .
The ministry also is set to demand that employees involved return the salary they received in the period they were found to have engaged in illegal union activities.
We urge the ministry to not only take these punitive measures but also file criminal complaints against the officials in question without delay.
Basic rules ignored
The National Civil Service Law bans central government officials from engaging in union activities during working hours without prior approval. Allowing such a practice would result in officials being paid with taxpayers' money despite not doing the job they are paid to do. Given that, the provision is perfectly reasonable. Nevertheless, this basic rule was completely neglected at the farm ministry.
Some officials reportedly marked their workplace attendance registers with their seals, then spent the entire day in their union offices.
Senior officials even sought approval from their labor union before asking their subordinates to work overtime. In addition, union members' shop meetings were frequently held during working hours.
One of the ministry's local offices reached a written agreement with the union ensuring that officials' work performance evaluations would not be reflected in personnel management decisions.
If such practices were permitted at private companies, their business would not remain viable. The ministry's offices apparently were overstaffed if they experienced no problems running their day-to-day operations despite lacking key staff.
Both the ministry's senior officials and the union's senior members who have failed to take action to rectify this extraordinary situation bear heavy responsibility.
The government is trying to raise government officials' awareness of their responsibilities as part of its campaign to improve administrative services. However, the prospects appear bleak under the current circumstances in which workplaces are ruled by union members.
The problem does not seem to be confined to the farm ministry. It has come to light that some Social Insurance Agency officials also engaged in union activities during working hours. Few would deny that such practices have also been occurring at other central and local government offices.
Last year, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry conducted investigations into unauthorized union activities at all government ministries and agencies. However, it was told by the farm ministry that no official had been found to have engaged in such practices.
In light of recent findings, the internal affairs ministry is currently conducting a fresh investigation, calling on officials to provide information on such practices by e-mail and telephone. The ministry's investigative capabilities will come under great scrutiny.
The Zennorin labor union is under the umbrella of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, known as Rengo, which supports the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan. Regardless of the current administration's fate, the government must squarely face up to the problem and take measures to make transparent the relationship that exists between labor and management at government offices.
As a step to prevent recurrence of similar problems, the farm ministry's third-party panel proposed that the content of labor-management negotiations be published and made subject to public criticism. We believe this is a proposal worth considering.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 16, 2009)